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The phenomenon of MegaDeth’s “Rust in Peace” is quite a unique one, owing to a long history of tumult following the life of its founder Dave Mustaine and the subsequent line-ups changes that had coincided with it. With perhaps the exception of “Peace Sells” Mustaine’s approach to album creation has been an exercise in pure intuition that seemed to magically align a set of varied influences into a cohesive whole. This can be readily observed in the seemingly out-of-place yet fitting classical piano intro to the debut album, and the host of seemingly unrelated lyrical topics and musical section changes in “So far, so good, so what?” Where this album differs is that it takes the opposite approach and instead creates something that is purposefully structured and more symmetrical.
Although I am personally a bigger fan of Chris Poland’s mellow yet fast approach to soloing, it is clear that Marty Friedman has the edge on chops as well as instrumental storytelling. He acts as a slightly more technical foil to Mustaine’s leads, resulting in a dueling soloist approach that gives a sense of unity between the two, rather than the sense of conflict that manifested itself on the solo sections of “Peace Sells”. Nowhere is this more present than in the cases of the first 2 epic thrashers on the track list, which showcase a variety of stylistic influences from Iron Maiden to classical guitarist Carlo Domeniconi.
Indeed, the entire tone of this album screams epic, not only in the proportion of music found on here but also in the approach to the subject matter covered. Although Mustaine mostly delves into themes of government conspiracy and social awareness in the cases of “Holy Wars”, “Hanger 18”, “Dawn Patrol” and the title track, he makes room for such wildly different subjects such as fantasy in the case of “Five Magics” and what appears to be an analogy to Dante’s 2nd plane of hell and a song of lust and self-destruction in "Tornado of Souls".
The songs do exhibit the same sense of creative freedom and intuitiveness that Dave has always possessed, but the focus has become clearer. “Holy Wars” has an intro riff that immediately grabs the ear, while the vocal delivery that follows over a series of well placed riffs is almost clean in its precision, though raunchy in timbre. The mystical sounding classical guitar interlude provided by Friedman throws the listener for a loop, yet takes nothing from the unity of the song. “Take no prisoners”, “Poison was the cure”, and “Lucretia” are all full speed ahead, uncompromising riff thrashers, the first of which containing a brief bass solo that challenges Joey Demaio’s status as the most out of control soloist on the instrument.
“Five Magics” continues to buck expectations and leads off with an evil sounding intro that reminds a bit of Slayer, followed by an extravaganza of lead lines and some off-the-cuff vocal interchanges. “Tornado of Souls” is the only song that could potentially be described as mid-tempo and comes off as the most memorable and catchy of the bunch. The title track is a thrash epic that sounds longer than the sub-6 minute time length, lyrically depicting the decay of ballistic missiles and attributing the name Polaris (also the name of the trinary star system that is referred to as the North Star) to a weapons system that is given the characteristics of a human tyrant. The only weak link in the bunch is “Dawn Patrol”, which does contain some fancy bass work, but doesn’t work well and contains a rather goofy vocal performance that doesn’t succeed as being humorous or scary.
Although from start to finish this album screams musical brilliance, the greatest song on here is “Hanger 18”. It’s principle chord progression is taken from Mustaine’s compositional contribution to Metallica in “Call of Ktulu”, which has been further elaborated and reclaimed by its rightful owner. The number of varying ideas drawn from this singular progression is quite large, presenting an exciting thrash epic with catchy vocals rather than the repetitive and somewhat overlong instrumental of its predecessor which was mostly a song displaying Cliff Burton’s technical prowess. The solo section and riff interchange at the end bears much resemblance to the classic Maiden epic title track off “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”, although a bit faster and lacking any keyboard tracks.
So the question is simply, is this album worthy of all the praise? Absolutely, but I must differ with the majority of the MegaDeth faithful whom say this is their best. When I listen to “Peace Sells” I hear absolute perfection by way of chance, when I listen to this I hear near perfection through intentional effort. It is a great album, one of the best in its genre, and if you get the re-mastered CD you’ll be treated to hearing a fine bonus song in “My Creation” and 3 songs off this album with Chris Poland doing leads. Mustaine has succeeded not once, but twice now in surpassing his former band mates in Metallica, and to this day continues to outshine them, regardless to what album sales and conventional wisdom say to the contrary.